Michael Thomas’ break with the Saints, explained
Michael Thomas was the NFL’s top receiver during the 2019 season, and it wasn’t even close. Catching a league-high 149 assists to go along with his 1,725 receiving yards, Thomas and Drew Brees’ partnership was the league’s scariest for opposing defenses.
Now, less than two years later, everything has collapsed. Thomas is in retreat in New Orleans. He has reportedly refused to answer coaches’ calls, and the receiver is frustrated by the differences over how his injured ankle should have been treated. Now he takes to Twitter and claims the Saints are trying to ruin his reputation, all the while insinuating that he knows the ugly things the team have done, but chooses not to air his dirty laundry. Things are very, very ugly.
What is the relationship at this point?
Thomas, who has had an injury-plagued 2020 season, was clearly not himself for much of the year. While he managed to get back in time for the playoffs and put in a huge effort to lead the Saints past the Bears in the playoffs, he then failed to make an impact at all against the Buccaneers, not being able to record a single take in the team’s 30-20 loss.
What followed was a major turning point for the Saints. With the team in hell of a salary cap and Brees retiring, significant veteran cuts would be needed to turn the ship around. However, it quickly became clear that no matter what: Thomas would stay in New Orleans. A receiver of his caliber was too critical of the quarterback’s future plans, providing one of the best safety nets in the league for anyone to take over as a signal caller.
There was only one problem left. The ankle injury that plagued him for much of the 2020 season still lingered, and this is where the problems started.
The Saints believed Thomas needed ankle surgery to be ready for the season. Thomas claims he got a second opinion from a doctor who thought he could be ready for the game without surgery. While within his rights to listen to this second opinion, Thomas tried to re-educate his ankle on his own – but ultimately those efforts failed. Thomas went under the knife in June, indefinitely delaying his start to the season.
Now here’s where things get murky. The Saints said they wanted to check with Thomas while he tried to readjust from the end of the season to May, but he refused to answer their calls.
“For reasons unknown, Thomas lost communication with the Saints. He did not return multiple calls over the next three months. Then-Saints coach Beau Lowery, wide receivers coach Curtis Johnson and head coach Sean Payton all tried to reach Thomas. None of their calls were answered or returned.
Saints coach Sean Payton didn’t mince words when asked about Thomas’ schedule during training camp.
“It’s disappointing,” Payton said last week when asked about the situation. “We would have liked (the operation) to take place sooner rather than later. And quite honestly, it should have.
Payton’s comments appear to have triggered Thomas, which led to his frustrated tweet and concern about his long-term future with the Saints.
So, in our opinion, what happened here?
It’s tricky, because as it stands, we really only have the Saints side of the story – but even then that side doesn’t really make sense. Objectively, it seems that some information is omitted, and Thomas alludes to it. It’s unclear why Thomas would suddenly stop responding to calls from coaches and team officials, especially after they agreed with him to try another route of treatment.
Payton’s comments allude to a lot of friction surrounding the situation. To be fair, the Saints were ultimately right. They wanted Thomas to have surgery early, and he chose not to – only to then have to have surgery later. The timing is unmistakably zero and could jeopardize New Orleans’ start to the season, although they are still seen as a very long shot to win the Super Bowl after Brees retires.
The point of view of the extreme cynic would be that this was a way of trying to force a trade to a better built and better performing team. However, there is no proof of this. It would make sense for Thomas to want to push for a Super Bowl on a new team as he steps up to 30, but to suggest he delayed the operation for that reason is a bit extreme.
As things tend to be, the truth is probably in the middle. Thomas wanted to try and fix the ankle problem on his own, the Saints wanted him to have the surgery right away – and it damaged their relationship. Now this is undoubtedly hurting the start of the Saints’ season, Thomas believes there is a coordinated effort to make him look bad in the public eye, and it’s going to take a lot of work to get the sides back in sync.
It will definitely be something to watch out for as the season begins.